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July, 2002:

Speaking of alternate means of publishing

The Press has a story about a different form of do-it-yourself publishing called print-on-demand, or POD, which has attracted a number of wannabe authors in Houston. It may be another form of “vanity publishing”, as newspaper book editors are wont to call it, but as a blogger with an eponymous domain, I’m hardly one to criticize. I say more power to ’em.

Blogging and journalism: Incompatible?

Ginger points to this story about a Houston Chronicle reporter who ran a blog on the side under a pseudonym. He was eventually outed and ordered to shut his site down by the Chron‘s new managing editor, Jeff Cohen.

For more than a year, Steve Olafson, the Houston Chronicle’s Brazoria County reporter, kept an online diary criticizing elected officials and commenting on local politics.


“When we learned about the Web site and Steve’s involvement with it, we asked him to take it down,” said Jeff Cohen, the Chronicle’s executive vice president and editor.

Contacted at his Lake Jackson home Wednesday, Olafson declined comment.

Opinions vary among local officials about whether Olafson did anything wrong. But journalism ethics analysts said the Web site posed a clear conflict that could hurt Olafson’s credibility.

Cohen would not comment on whether Olafson’s involvement in the Web site violated the Chronicle’s code of ethics or whether any action would be taken against Olafson.

“I can’t talk to you about how we handle violations of policy because we would not discuss that externally,” Cohen said.

Olafson continues in his capacity as a Chronicle reporter, Cohen said.

I’m with Ginger on this. I’d have loved to have known about this site before it went bye-bye, even though I live nowhere near Brazoria County. Frankly, I’d love to see any number of writers at the Chron and the weekly Houston Press get blogs, whether officially sponsored by their corporate lords and masters or not. I plan on writing a note to Jeff Cohen and telling him exactly that.

And I don’t buy the so-called ethical issues, either. Olafson is still a private citizen and entitled to express his opinions. He wasn’t making any money off the blog, nor was he likely to influence anyone or anything more than he could as a Real Journalist. Where’s the conflict?

I’m in favor of all legitimate sources of information about my city. I’m sorry that Steve Olafson’s is now extinct.

UPDATE: I should have known that someone would have covered this ground already. Matt Welch did so in 1999. Check it out.

In case you hadn’t noticed

That new git-tuff-on-corporate-crime bill that Dubya signed and is shamelessly claiming cedit for despite opposing it every step of the way? It was supposed to contain full protection for corporate whistle-blowers, the people who will call attention to the future Enrons. Team Bush has decided that they don’t want to support that, so they’re interpreting it in such a narrow way as to render it meaningless.

Eight hours [after signing the bill], the White House quietly issued a statement outlining how it was interpreting several provisions, including one that grants federal protection to corporate whistle-blowers who present Congress with information that books had been cooked or investors misled.

Bush spokeswoman Claire Buchan said the White House views the provision as shielding whistle-blowers from company retaliation only if they talk to a congressional committee “in the course of an investigation.” The protections would not apply when evidence is provided to individual lawmakers or aides, she said.

In other words, if you speak up about an unknown, ongoing fraud, you can still be harassed and fired. Only if the feds magically hear about it and undertake an investigation on their own will you be protected if you talk.

Even Republicans think that’s wrong:

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, called the White House move “disturbing.”

“Our intention is to protect any whistle-blower who exposes wrongdoing to an individual member of Congress, a congressional committee, a media outlet or any other public entity,” Grassley said. “Whistle-blowers need full protection. Otherwise they won’t come forward. Problems won’t see the light of day.”

Via Nathan Newman.

Stupid employee tricks

I promised yesterday that I’d write about some of the more interesting things I’ve seen on the job. Sit back and relax as I tell you about the Horny Employee and the Network Printer.

About a year and a half after I started at the large multinational company where I work, I was asked to join an experimental help desk. Originally, our help desk was set up on a by-technology basis. We had a group that supported the desktop and LAN (Windows 3.1, OS/2 servers, DOS LAN Requester – stop laughing, it was 1995), a group that supported VM, a group for MVS, and a bunch of smaller groups that handled different specialty apps and systems. All users called one number and then navigated a complex phone tree to get to the group they needed to talk to.

Naturally, this system sucked. There were tons of menu choices. Lots of people got lost and had to be rerouted. Some groups were overstaffed, some were understaffed. The customers wanted something better and cheaper.

So what was proposed was a help desk that supported specific locations. It would be staffed by a cross-section of the various support groups, so that there was always someone who knew how to handle any given question. Those with PC knowledge were to help out the mainframe experts, and vice versa. Best of all, customers would call a number and get a technician without having to press any more buttons.

It worked pretty well, and in fact is the model that’s still in use today. At the time, the group was a mix of staff and contractors. We had overlapping schedules so we could cover from 6 AM to 6 PM and during lunch.

One of the contractors was a guy whom I’ll call R. R was a good employee – he knew his stuff, had good rapport with customers on the phone, volunteered to work the unpopular 6 AM shift, and handled a decent sized call volume. He was a good ol’ boy who lived way out in the country (we’re talking a 50 or 60 mile commute each way), was married and had two teenage kids.

And one afternoon we were told that he was gone, just like that. We all had to scramble to cover his shift and workload. We were pretty upset until the story leaked as to why R was no longer with us.

It seems that during a lull in the day, R had written an erotic story on his computer. Well, calling it an “erotic story” is an overbid – it was like an unedited letter to the Penthouse Forum. It was a letter from a man to his girlfriend about how he and his wife had really gotten it on the night before (don’t ask whether this was taken from real life experience or if it was just straight-on fantasizing, I don’t know and don’t want to know).

Now, writing such a thing on a work computer is not the smartest thing in the world, but even in our open-cubicle environment, you could get away with it. R’s fatal mistake was when he decided that he really needed to print this little masterpiece.

On a network printer.

I don’t know about you, but I think if I’d just written a stroke letter and printed it on a network printer, I’d make damn sure that I was there pulling it out of the rollers before it even had a chance to sit in the output bin. R, for reasons of his own, took his time getting to the printer. Alas for him, someone else picked up his printout. And that was the last we saw of R.

It wasn’t the last we heard or spoke of him. He called in to the help desk a day or so later and apologized for letting us down. He spoke to a female teammate, which probably made her pretty uncomfortable because after his firing, she and a couple of other women on the team reported that R seemed to enjoy steering conversations with them towards sex. It hadn’t yet gotten to the point where any of them were ready to complain to management about it, but all of them expressed relief that now they wouldn’t have to.

The postscript on this story is that for several months afterwards, we all gave a good-natured hard time to the employee who found R’s magnum opus and turned it in to management. Any time someone disagreed with him, we’d say “Hey, better watch out, you saw what he did to R, you could be next.” I still tease him about this from time to time.

The help desk here has long been a starting point for many employees. In my time with this group, I’ve seen a number of people get fired for various stupid things. R’s story remains the most spectacular flameout.

Count me out

God grant my City Council the courage to change the things they can, the serenity to accept the things they can’t, and the wisdom to know the difference.

So what’s on the agenda for our City Council these days? The chaos that has been wrought by so much road work? Flood control? Term limits? Property taxes?

Would you believe slavery reparations?

I was going to write a long rant about he misguidedness of reparations, but I’ll point you to this article in The American Prospect instead, which captures my feelings pretty well. Let’s just say here that I consider this to be a waste of the Council’s time, since after all they can do exactly bupkus about it.

In the meantime, let’s hope that there’s enough time in the Council meeting for them to talk about the West Nile virus outbreak, increased parking meter fees, the proposed pedestrian plaza for Main Street – you know, the things they can change.

Perry ad followup

Yesterday I wrote about an ad that Governor Goodhair is running which attempts to link Democratic candidate Tony Sanchez to drug money. Today, the federal judge in the case that Perry’s ad cites specifically repudiated Perry’s charges.

A senior federal judge — breaking from traditional judicial silence — Tuesday said Republican Gov. Rick Perry’s new television commercial falsely uses one of his 1984 orders to portray Democratic Tony Sanchez as laundering money for drug dealers.

“Insofar as the ad appears to attribute any of this to me, it’s absolutely false,” said U.S. District Judge Harry Lee Hudspeth.


Citing Hudspeth’s order approving the government seizure of some of the drug money held in First City National Bank of El Paso, Perry’s commercial says:

“A federal judge confirmed Sanchez’s bank wired millions of laundered drug money to Manuel Noriega’s Panama.”

Hudspeth said his order involved the Internal Revenue Service seizing funds from a money broker who was making deposits for a Mexican drug lord. Hudspeth said his order said nothing about whether the banks or bankers had acted improperly or illegally.

“It was not criticism of any banker anywhere,” Hudspeth said.

I really think Perry went over the edge on this one. Tony Sanchez’s business career is fair game for examination and criticism, but this ad just strikes me as being hysterical. It will be interesting to see how this affects the poll numbers.

Bork in a dress

Via Joe Conanson comes this FindLaw column that lays out further the case against Priscilla Owen, Judicial Activist. Cragg Hines stays on it as well.

Buckner, Rose, and Coulter

An interesting piece in Salon today by Keith Olbermann about understanding the consequences of one’s actions. Here’s the part that got me:

It will never occur to [Ann] Coulter that in the vast crowd of us who appeared on television news in 1998, and focused entirely on the itinerary of President Clinton’s genitalia, she was up near the front. It’s a big crowd, and some of us tried to disperse it. But we’re all there — I’m including myself — and as we head to purgatory for our sins, if not hell, we should all solemnly acknowledge that in fact there most obviously was something else to which we should have been paying attention, and didn’t.

Last September I went back and checked the logs of my old MSNBC show and discovered to my surprise that in the two months before we changed the meaning of the parent company’s acronym to “Nothing But Clinton,” my most frequent guests were James Dunegan, a craggy bespectacled man who talked endlessly of terrorism and the Middle East and the threat of anthrax being delivered to Broadway, and Dr. Richard Haas, then of the Brookings Institution, who warned constantly of terrorism and the Middle East and the threats to, and in, this country.

Then one day Mr. Dunegan and Dr. Haas were swept away, never to appear again. Instead we got Terry Jeffrey and Bob Barr and Christopher Hitchens, and our lower-grade sister shows got Newt Gingrich and Barbara Olson and Ann Coulter. That I escaped Coulter was merely a throwaway favor from my masters. They had been hinting she’d have to be a guest sooner rather than later. Then she went over-the-top: Despite an eye infection, she could not keep herself off television. I begged my bosses not to make me interview a guest who was literally wearing a huge, distracting eyepatch. Thus my imagery of her as a pirate: For a week she continued to flail away at the wrong evil while looking like a refugee from some camped-up version of “Treasure Island.” But not on my show.

Mistake me not here: Ann Coulter didn’t cause Sept. 11. Not in a billion years would I accuse her, or any of the others (not even Barr), of that. But with hindsight one has to ask why the prospect of a country unprepared for terrorism wasn’t a sexy enough topic for her and the others to use to pound Clinton and the Democrats. Certainly they got with the program after Sept. 11, blaming Clinton for being soft on Osama bin Laden and terror. The Clinton folks struck back, and for a while it was compelling television controversy and worthwhile political debate, a hot TV commodity that at least contained some crumb of public good. Why wasn’t that interesting before Sept. 11?

True Tales from the Jobsite

TTLB and Chad Orzel have talked about a desire to see more diversity in blogging; more stuff about what people do and less armchair punditry. I find that I’m slowing down a bit on general purpose punditry these days. There’s a lot of people out there with more time, interest, and knowledge than I who pound away at that stuff. I’d rather say something original than add to the echo chamber, so unless I feel I’m really adding some value I’ve preferred to read rather than write on those topics.

I’m more interested and have been more active of late in local and state politics, partly because it interests me sufficiently, and partly because there’s a smaller chorus to sing in. That fits with my original philosophy for this blog, which is that I’ll write about what I want to. If I start to feel compelled to write about things, this will start to feel like work, and that way burnout lies.

I just wish I had a sufficiently entertaining job to write about. I have a friend who has had many excellent jobsite tales to tell (I especially recommend this one and this one – standard No Beverage Warning applies to each), but as an email administrator, most of my job would bore a night watchman. If I ever bring my own kid to work on Take Our Children To Work Day I’ll have to lie about what I do. “Hey, watch Daddy import this tab-delimited text file! Oooh, now I’m going to write a Perl script to format the output!” Some days I make Dilbert look like a thrill ride.

Even in my time as a Help Desk tech, I never had any truly juicy stories about stupid user tricks. I spent three years as the help desk for a company that made programming tools for DOS. Programmers do tend to be a bit more computer literate than the average user, so there wasn’t too much humor potential. Of course, some of these guys used a high-level database language called Clipper, which was mostly geared towards fast application development by people who didn’t much care about the inner workings of the system. Calling them programmers is kinda like calling George W. Bush a self-made man.

But I digress. I do have a couple of interesting tales from my work life. One is a Stupid Coworker story from when I’d moved to my current large multinational company. The other is from the small software shop days, and it’s more of an It’s A Small World kind of thing. I’ll post them both in the next day or so. In the meantime, read about A Very Stinky Problem.

Right on schedule

Like clockwork, Clymer Wright breaks out the Crayolas and sends a letter to the editor (scroll down) about John Williams’ column from Monday, which suggested that his beloved term limits might be wearing out their welcome.

Here’s my favorite bit:

Williams claimed I used the “conservative’s ultimate slur” in remarking that Borden is getting more liberal the older he gets.

As a lifelong conservative, I have never heard a single conservative use this “ultimate slur.”

Note that Wright never actually denies saying what Williams wrote. The possible implications are left as an exercise to the reader.

One way to find out

Are you going to heaven or hell? There’s gotta be a better way than this to find out:

An argument over who was going to heaven and who was going to hell ended with one Texas man shooting another to death with a shotgun, police said Monday.

Perhaps they should have stuck to safer conversational topics. Hindsight can be a bitch sometimes.

Now it’s really getting nasty

Governor Goodhair has fired back in his campaign for reelection by running ads that allege that Tony Sanchez’s bank was involved in drug-related money laundering.

The commercial focuses on $25 million in Mexican drug cartel money that flowed through Sanchez’s now-defunct Tesoro Savings and Loan in 1983 and 1984. Sanchez and Tesoro officials have maintained they did not know the money was illegal.

But Perry’s ad claims that as federal agents closed in on the money laundering ring, Tesoro transferred $9 million to a Panamanian bank.

“When given a choice of turning over drug-related funds to federal authorities, Mr. Sanchez and Tesoro instead allowed the drug money launderers to spirit the suspect funds to Panama, then a hotbed of international drug activity,” said Perry spokesman Ray Sullivan.

Sanchez claims that he and his bank did nothing wrong, and indeed a federal judge ruled in 1988 that the fund transfer which Perry’s campaign is trumpeting was perfectly legal. Furthermore,

Sanchez’s campaign also gave reporters copies of testimony from a 1987 libel case Sanchez brought against a Laredo newspaper over its reporting of the incident. A former assistant U.S. attorney, a federal drug agent and an IRS agent all testified that no Tesoro officials knew of the money laundering.

I don’t know how effective this attack ad will be. The money laundering case is fairly well known, though this is a new twist on it. Making charges about “Mexican drug lords” doesn’t seem like a good way to woo Hispanic voters to me, but what do I know? But let’s face it: This is at best a dicey time for anyone to be making the I-didn’t-know-what-was-happening-at-my-business argument regardless of its merits.

No matter what goes right

Chron baseball writer Richard Justice has a regular Baseball Notebook column that runs every Sunday during the season. This Sunday’s effort talked about the labor issues and was surprisingly fair to the players’ union. Still, he couldn’t quite overcome his belief in the myth of competitive balance:

Given the current disparities between the rich teams and poor ones, only a handful of clubs have a real chance of contending for a championship. Others, like the A’s and Twins and Royals, can only contend if everything goes right, and even then their window of opportunity is limited by salary issues the Yankees, Red Sox and Mets don’t have.

Grouping the Royals, as badly-run a franchise as you’ll find, with the A’s and Twins is pretty seriously ignorant, but not my point. The A’s have been competitors since 1998 and contenders every year since 1999. That’s an awfully long time to have “everything go right”. Perhaps a better explanation is that the A’s know what they’re doing and can even overcome adversity as they did last year.

As for the Twins, they’re middle of the pack in pitching this year. As Rob Neyer notes, Joe Mays and Brad Radke have combined for five wins so far. And yet the Twins are dominating their division, thanks to much-improved hitting and weaker-than-expected competition. (Don’t forget to send a thank-you note to Kenny Williams, Twin fans.)

All teams face a certain amount of adversity. Good teams overcome it. When “everything goes right” you get the ’84 Tigers, the ’98 Yankees, or the ’01 Mariners. The Twins are a good team with a good future. The A’s have been a good team for several years. It’s time they got credit for it.

How not to market your product

Jeff Cooper writes of a longtime Mets fan site which has received a cease-and-desist order from Major League Baseball. He looks at from the viewpoint of trademark law and the doctrine of “laches”, which I need to go and look up. (I love learning new stuff like this.)

Cooper rightly notes that regardless of the legality of the situation, the defendant is a 20-year-old college student who’s doing this on his own, and thus is in no position to litigate against a multimillion dollar industry. He further notes that this is a prime example of what the Baseball Prospectus calls “anti-marketing”, something that Beelzebud and his cronies excel at.

I do have some good news for you, Jeff. Kevin Whited has followed the case of an Astros fan blog that was threatened by MLB but in the end was allowed to live. And after the BP ran this article about how baseball can and should build its fan base, they got this response which talks about what some teams do do. Maybe, just maybe, there’s some hope here.

Term limits sanity

A local conservative Republican activist is seeing a change in attitude towards the idea of term limits. Term limits had been a rallying cry for GOP activists in the early to mid 1990s, but even then some people questioned their wisdom:

[Bill] Borden is one of a growing number of conservative Republicans in the Houston area who now oppose term limits as an intrusion into voters’ rights.

“The truth is, term limits haven’t helped Houston or anyplace else,” Borden says. “It hasn’t helped do anything but create problems.”

Borden converted longer ago than most. He was silent a decade ago, when Clymer Wright proposed that voters limit Houston’s elected city officials to three 2-year terms.

He had been a term-limits supporter for much of the 1980s. Borden and others held that periodically replacing elected officials would refresh and reshape government.

But by 1991, when voters approved Wright’s referendum, Borden was talked out of the position by U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land.

“Tom always argued that it’s not right to restrict who a voter can vote for,” Borden said. “By 1990, I agreed with him. The truth is, term limits was a position many Republicans held to get Democrats out of office.”

Clymer Wright, the driving force behind Houston’s moronic term limits law, dismisses Borden’s feelings on the subject by saying Borden’s gotten “more liberal” as he gets older. Yeah, sure, Clymer. Is that also true of Tom DeLay?

Given the politics, it may take a Republican mayor to lead the charge against term limits here. I hate dilemmas like that. Hey, Joe Roach, what’s your position on this?

You sure this is a good idea?

You’re the President of the most powerful nation in the world. You’re being blamed for the current economic turmoil, while your Treasury Secretary is busy making a fool of himself. Your business experience, a cornerstone of your campaign, is being shown to be a fraud, even by conservatives, while your Vice President is being sued by a conservative watchdog group over his allegedly fraudulent behavior as a CEO. And if that weren’t enough, you’re preparing for war.

So what do you do? Why, you go on vacation, of course. For a month.

Well, hey. Sometimes, when the chips are down, when the odds are stacked against you, when hack amateur pundits are taking cheap shots, there’s only one thing to do. And you’re just the man to do it.

Getting their story straight

Charles Dodgson does some pundit watching, and it’s not pretty:

In the conservative Weekly Standard, two scholars from the American Enterprise Institute argue that the prospect of further regulation, such as the bill that recently passed through Congress on stiffening up accounting standards, ruining confidence in the economy, and driving down the markets.

On Meet the Press this morning, Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill praised the bill as a useful measure to restore confidence in the economy, and should help the markets come back (as have several Republicans in Congress).

[daffyduck cartoon=”duckamuck”] Is it too much to ask you to make up your minds??? [/daffyduck]

I haven’t been reading Slate all that much lately. Has Tim Noah started the O’Neill Death Watch again? Just curious.

What’s the smallest line you can read?

I’ve now had two requests to bump up the font size in the blog content area, so I’ve changed it from 11px to 12px in the style sheet. I hope this is better. As always, any constructive feedback is appreciated.

I got your deficit right here

Brad DeLong shows us an interesting memo from 1993 that measures budget deficits of the 1980s by Presidential versus Congressional component. You know how blame for the deficits in those days always seemed to go to the irresponsible, spendthrift Congress? Well, it wasn’t really like that. Check it out.

In the eye of the beholder

Kevin had pointed awhile back to this interesting take by Jeanne D’Arc on perception and bias. Sometimes, seeing distortions and slurs in a news story says more about you than it does about the writer.

Ryan Leaf

Here’s the funniest thing about Ryan Leaf’s announced retirement from the NFL: Leaf, who was once considered one of the top quarterback prospects in the game, threw a total of fourteen touchdown passes in his career.

Walter Payton, who was not a quarterback, threw eight touchdown passes in his career.

A real bike race

Congratulations to Lance Armstrong for winning his fourth straight Tour de France. It’s an amazing accomplishment, no matter how you slice it, and despite what some dumbass sportswriters may think, makes Lance Armstrong on e of the world’s greatest athletes.

But the big question remains: How would Lance do at the Tour de Donut?


I had a bit of difficulty implementing categories fully. The sticking point had to do with changing the footer on my entries to contain the category name and link to that category’s archive page, as well as adding a list of categories to my main archive page. The MT user manual does give you all the information you need, but it’s in bits and pieces all over the place. A few examples would have helped me immensely.

Normally, I’d simply view source on someone else’s blog to guide me, but MT renders all of its tags in index files, so what you see when you view source is the finished product. That’s not helpful, since I want to see the code. I figure someone else might benefit from this, so I’ve documented everything I did and placed it in this text file here. It’s in a text file to ensure that MT doesn’t try to render its tags, and to make it easier for anyone interested to save a copy for themselves. I may update this file someday as I dink with my blog config, so I’ll add a link to this file in my main index under Blog Resources.

Hope it helps. Any feedback on this is appreciated. Thanks to Ginger and Michael for helping me work through my category issues.

UPDATE: Byron found this post useful, and he’s added some corrections for those who’ve updated to MT version 2.64. He’s also made me realize that I don’t have categories configured for my individual archives, a situation I’m about to rectify.


Larry and Meryl are in the second half of their 24-hour Blogathon. There’s still time to sponsor them (or others – you can see a full list of participants on the Blogathon site) if you want. They’re blogging for good causes, and unlike public radio it doesn’t interfere with the stuff you like. I mean, admit it – it sucks listening to CarTalk during pledge drive time.

Anyway, go give ’em some love. And guys, if you run out of ideas, you can always follow Dawn Olson’s lead.

Who writes these things?

Apparently, the Chron editorial page was taken over by a Republican National Committee member with a talking points list today. That’s the only explanation I can come up with for this entry, which uses the phrase “death tax” and makes it sound as though it mostly falls on hardworking farmers and small business owners instead of rich folk.

No mention of how much the repeal of this tax will cost the Treasury, though you can be sure that the crack staff at the Chron will bleat in righteous indignation at Congress when the pesky deficit refuses to go away.

There’s a case to be made against the estate tax, but this ain’t it. This is propaganda.

West Nile Virus spreads

A total of ten people have contracted the West Nile Virus so far in the Houston area. I’ve been told that the virus has been discovered in our neighborhood as well – they’ve found dead birds which were contaminated. I think I’ll be putting on a space suit before I walk the dog tonight.

Whiter teeth or commie plot?

San Antonio is finally getting flouride in their drinking water, a year and a half after a proposal to do so was approved by voters. The vote was the third such initiative since 1966 and was the first to overcome fierce resistance.

This article from the Express-News archives, gives a good picture of the forces at work in this battle. I was a sophomore at Trinity University when the 1985 ballot was cast. I still don’t understand the likes of C.A. Stubbs and Kay Turner, two of the leaders of the anti-flouridation movement. For the four years I lived in San Antonio, every time I read a quote in the papers from Stubbs I was struck by how little overlap there seemed to be in his universe and mine. As for Turner, whom I don’t remember, she seems to have misplaced a husband somewhere along the line:

Turner had said her marriage was to “an intelligence agent” who died without a trace in Central America while on a covert mission. During the [1997 mayoral] campaign, Turner was unable to produce a photograph, marriage license or any other record of J. Adam Walker III. Since then, she has said that another former husband, Tom Turner, threw away her records dealing with Walker.

There’s no form of entertainment quite like local goverment, y’know?

Anyway, now San Diego is apparently the largest US city to not have flouridated water. Nice to know that everything doesn’t have to be bigger here.

The funniest thing you’ll read today

Andrew Northrup tells us about the top ten fashion victims of the 80s. I’ll give you now the standard warning about not consuming beverages while reading this.

I think we need to pass federal legislation that orders the immediate burning of all high school yearbooks from the 80s. I know quite a few people whose future authority with their not-yet-teenaged children depends on it. Let’s face it: Anyone for whom there is documented evidence of having worn parachute pants has no right to say “You’re not going out dressed like that!” to his or her offspring.

BTW, Andrew, does this make you the poor man’s Mr. Blackwell, or is he the poor man’s Andrew Northrup?

Breathing fire

Man, I don’t know what Avedon has been eating for breakfast lately, but whatever it is, I want some of it. Take a look at these two entries for some really good stuff. Brava!

Where competitive balance is really needed

In the wake of the big money signings of star free agents Rick Reilly and Gary Smith, Major League Sports Magazine Commissioner Larry “Bud” Smellig has reiterated his plea for a salary cap on sports scribes.

“Our industry cannot survive this kind of rampant salary inflation,” Smellig said. “How can small-market magazines hope to compete with the likes of SI and ESPN for writing talent? Fans of small-market magazines have no hope and faith that they can go up against the big guys and win.”

Smellig believes that the only solution to the rapid rise of sportswriter salaries is to impose a salary cap and revenue sharing.

“SI and ESPN are owned by Ted Turner and Disney, for chrissakes. How can you expect a mom-and-pop magazine like the Milwaukee Sports Journal and Fishing Report to retain talent when gazillionaires like Turner can wave his bank statements around? The only solution is to force the successful magazines to share their revenue with the less successful ones,” said Smellig.

Smellig longed for the days when writers started with a magazine and stayed with that same magazine for the rest of his career or until he was fired. “Writers today have no loyalty. They go wherever the big money is. It’s just un-American that a writer can choose where he wants to work and negotiate his own salary, and it’s ruining the sports magazine business.”

Smellig forecast dark days for the sports magazine industry if spiralling salaries weren’t artificially capped. “Look, everybody knows that sports magazine owners are mouth-breathing idiots who’ll throw millions at any over-the-hill hack with a smidgen of of name recognition. We need to impose rules to prevent them from spending their money in an unwise fashion. It’s just the way of capitalism.”

If things don’t change quickly, Smellig warned, some magazines might not survive. “In fact, I know of at least two magazines that won’t make payroll this week. They may have to auction off the secretaries to pay the ungrateful writers’ salaries or they’ll have the writers’ union all over their asses. Is that what you want to have happen?” When asked to provide the names of the magazines that might not make payroll or for a look at those magazines’ books, Smellig drew back in horror. “What, don’t you trust me? We let a blue-ribbon commission of magazine owners look at our books and they wrote a blue-ribbon report saying that everything I’ve ever said about the state of our finances is totally true, including things I haven’t said yet. And did I say that two magazines might not make payroll? I meant four magazines. Maybe five.”

(Inspired by this Mac Thomason post.)

Literally mopping the floor with bad guys

Fritz Schranck has the goods on the next Bruce Willis action movie. I’m so there.

Breathe, breathe in the air

The state clean air plans for Houston-Galveston and Dallas-Fort Worth are in jeopardy as the means of funding for them has been ruled unconstitutional.

Federal environmental officials are preparing to deliver a sharp warning to their Texas counterparts: Get the Houston-Galveston area’s clean air plan back on track by September 2003 or we may have to do it for you.

So said the state’s top environmental regulator Wednesday as he and other state officials warily awaited an announcement by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on clean air plans for the Houston-Galveston and Dallas-Fort Worth regions.

Jeff Saitas, executive director of the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, said he expects the EPA to announce, perhaps today, that both plans are in trouble with the federal regulators because of a collapse of funding for a key package of incentives that could significantly reduce air pollution. The EPA had no comment.


Saitas said it is his understanding the “approved” status of the Houston plan will not change until Sept. 1, 2003. If the Legislature has not restored funding by then, the EPA will find that the state is failing to implement its plan as promised and could withdraw its approval.

That could result in the loss of billions of dollars in federal highway funds and a federal plan, rather than a state plan, to clean the air.

Is it just me, or is the notion of George Bush’s EPA cracking down on pollution in Texas a wee bit ridiculous? I mean, is he going to blame Ann Richards if Texas loses highway funds over this?

The incentive package, known also as Senate Bill 5, is a crucial ingredient in efforts to cut air pollution in Texas metropolitan areas that do not meet the federal Clean Air Act’s air quality standards.

It offers grants and incentives to private citizens, government entities and businesses who voluntarily purchase cleaner vehicles and equipment or who act to achieve greater energy efficiency.

When the bill was introduced by Sen. Buster Brown, R-Lake Jackson, chairman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, the $137 million cost was to be funded by taxes and fees on such things as vehicle inspections, new vehicle purchases, hotel occupancy and taxi rides in polluted areas.

But, wary of voter reaction to the new fees and taxes, the bill emerged with about three-quarters of the funding coming from an inspection fee on all out-of-state vehicles — a fee that went from $1 to $225 per vehicle with a stroke of Gov. Rick Perry’s pen.

The fee was challenged by two Austin-area auto dealers and ruled unconstitutional by state District Judge Lora Livingston.

It’s come to this. We don’t want to pay for the things we need so we try to shaft visitors. Houston’s car-rental fees are outrageous, thanks to our publicly funded stadia. San Antonio has an 18% hotel surcharge for the same reason.

Sadly, it ain’t gonna get better any time soon:

The Legislature will fund the plan, all agree, but the question is how.

“As a state, we place the highest priority on protecting health, and I am confident we will work to provide the funding necessary to acquire final approval,” Perry said.

He and Democratic gubernatorial rival Tony Sanchez, however, pledge no new taxes.

“Tony has said tax and fee increases are absolutely off the table,” said Sanchez campaign spokesman Mark Sanders.

Guys? Try knocking out a few teeth and putting them under your pillow. Maybe the Tooth Fairy will chip in a few bucks to help out.

Foiling the moon rock thieves

Let’s give our thanks to Axel Emmermann, who tipped the FBI to a solicitation to buy “a rare and historically significant piece of the moon”, thus leading to the capture of the Moon Rocks Four. It’s nice to know in this day and age that you can still trust the morals of Belgian rock collectors.

God bless Willie Nelson

The Comal River is availableto tubers again, much to the delight of residents and business owners in New Braunfels.

To the cheers of area residents, the cool, clear Comal River reopened to tubers on Wednesday, but flooding continues to keep parts of the Guadalupe River off-limits to recreation.

There were even louder cheers when officials announced that musician Willie Nelson agreed to perform a benefit concert for this flood-ravaged community.


Nelson plans to play Aug. 5 at Gruene Hall. Tickets cost $100 and all proceeds are earmarked for New Braunfels Rebounds, an ecumenical group that was formed in 1998 to rebuild homes from that year’s major flood.

The Guadeloupe River is still off limits for most recreational activities, but having the Comal available again will help New Braunfels greatly. Way to go, guys.